Bluebell Woodland & Plastic-free Workshop

Eagles & Electricity

Almost two months into my seasonal position here at the Ranger Service already, and it’s been a busy start with some wonderful weather. Most of my time is given to providing daily guided tours at Mull Eagle Watch – I’m based primarily at West Ardhu, in the North West Mull Community Woodland. This is so handy and environmentally friendly as this area is my home patch, and I’m lucky to be driving a fully electric van (thanks to the Mull & Iona Community Trust/Sustainable Mull & Iona). The van, running completely on electricity is so enjoyable to drive, whilst being better for the planet. So far at the eagle viewing hide we’ve had a great start and our adult eagles Hope and Star are very busy raising two eaglets/chicks in their nest.

Unique Ulva

For my first main event of the season I led a guided walk on the stunning Isle of Ulva. I was joined by the knowledgeable, retired Wildlife Ranger Steve Irvine and twelve guests for a lovely woodland walk on the peaceful, car free island.

Annoyingly, after having glorious sunshine for days before the walk we were provided only with thick cloud but never the less we still had a great time and spotted plenty of wildlife. Sadly, the numerous butterfly species the island has to offer weren’t active. A few days before the walk I’d visited to check my route and enjoyed lovely views of the tiny, but beautiful green hairstreak butterfly.

The woodland on Ulva is brilliant and much work has been done by the owners to improve the habitat by deer fencing and management, and the higher slopes have recently been replanted with native tree species. We marveled at the variety and the dense undergrowth among the trees – something missing from many overgrazed woodlands.
Flower species we spotted included;
Yellow pimpernel, bugle, ramsons (wild garlic), lousewort, water avens, wood anemone, lesser celandine, birds-foot trefoil, dog violets, bitter vetch and of course bluebells.

Bluebells (Knock, Mull) (1)
The bluebells were out in full force throughout the walk and were a real treat. Did you know that bluebells were used back in the bronze age to fletch arrows and that they’re poisonous? On Ulva there are standings stones dating back to the bronze age – so they could well have used the island’s bluebells for many things!

Other wildlife we noticed included a family of grey wagtails with recently fledged chicks, heron, greylag geese, tree pipit, wren and willow warbler.

We all finished off with either a delicious lunch or a tea and cake at The Boathouse.

Plastic Beach Workshop – become a “plastic-free person”

You can join me on Wednesday May 24th for my next event! I’m running a ‘Plastic Beach Workshop’ on the shore of Loch Buie. We’ll have a  pleasant walk to reach our picnic site, whilst enjoying the local wildlife and chatting about the global impact of plastic on the our planet.
We’ll munch on our picnics – can you bring along a plastic free lunch? I’ll then talk you through easy, cost effective ways to reduce your reliance on plastic at home, with some of my alternatives on hand for you to look at.

Plastic is one the biggest global threats facing our planet, it’s wildlife and us.

Petrifying Plastic Facts:

* Did you know that 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans every year?

* By 2025, 10x more plastic will end up in oceans each year.

* Plus 70% of that plastic sinks, so we’re seeing only the tip of the iceberg!

* Each day we throw away 100 million plastic bottles across the world – every day!

* 80% of the plastic in the oceans leaks from land based sources like landfill sites

Black Beach Litter

We should all be doing the simple things to reduce our reliance on plastic – especially, the one-use “disposable” items like plastic bottles, straws and cutlery. Plastic lasts forever, yet we use it to make things we use once!

Join me on our Plastic Beach Workshop – call 07540792650 for more information.
Plastic Workshop Poster

I’m looking forward to next few months with lots of exciting summer events and great wildlife to spot around the island!

Thanks for reading – back soon!

Update from the north of the island from Jan and Tikka

Friends of Calgary Bay have been busy raising funds to fence of a section of the machair so that sheep grazing can be managed for a period of up to 4 months annually. This will allow the machair to flower and set seed. With great thanks to all those whom contributed to the funding pot, we have enough funds to pay for and erect a fence, but still need to continue fund raising so we can install some signs to explain why the machair  and Calgary Bay are so special. It is a sand deposit based habitat unique to the west coast of Scotland and Ireland and therefor internationally very rare.


Machair flowers


We had a very well supported beach clean at Calgary a couple of weeks ago and maybe due to the continual lifting of rubbish as people walked the beach there was not so much waste about, but an enjoyable day was had anyway.


Beach clean 30th April



I have had several groups of off island volunteers looking for jobs to do and we have got them involved in helping protect the machair by transplanting marram grass in the blown out areas of the sand dunes and also reshaping the edges of the sand dunes so they are not so sensitive to damage by wind.


SRUC Countryside management students



The Lighthouse Path, Tobermory.

As many of you know, the condition of the path has been deteriorating for a number of years and following a landslip in 2014 the Council erected “road closed’ signs along the path. Although people continue to use the footpath, its condition makes the route difficult in parts, and muddy and slippery for the majority of the route.

After exploring many avenues to find a way to repair the footpath, Mull and Iona Community Trust has recently secured a grant from the European Improving Public Access scheme, which is administered by Scottish Natural Heritage. The funding will enable us to purchase materials and start the path improvements this summer.

We have formed a Steering Group to oversee the work and the core members are; Alexa Kershaw, Moray Finch, Jan Dunlop, James Henderson, John MacDonald, and Charlie MacDonald of the Northern Lighthouse Board.

We are in the process of appointing local contractors to work on the path improvements and will be asking for help from anyone who is keen to be involved in the near future, so watch this space and if you have any queries please do not hesitate to get in touch with me on or 07765898600.


Landslide on the Lighthouse path



The Walled Garden, Aros Park.

The Forestry Commission has bought back the Walled Garden in Aros Park and has cleared all the fallen timber and rhododendron so now it is an open and viable space. The Forestry Commission and are looking to encouraging a community project to get involved in utilizing this wonderful space. If you have any great ideas the Ranger Service or Mull and Iona Community Trust would be very interested in hearing them.


Fun Packed Events Programme. We would like you to come and join us on one of our events and hopefully we have something for everyone so keep an eye out for posters, article in Round and About and posts both here and on our Facebook Page: Mull and Iona Ranger service. If you do attend one of our vents we would love to hear what you think and if you have any new events you would like to see us running please get in touch.


Spring has well and truly sprung!

It’s great to see leaves on trees, flowers popping up everywhere and returning migrants swelling the chorus of birdsong around us.  Here on the Ross we hosted a birdsong walk around Bunessan village in mid-April, listening to house sparrows, wren, songthrush, blackbird, robin, blue tit, goldfinch, chaffinch, goldcrest among others.  Why not come along to the next one on Wednesday 3rd May and add some new songs to your repertoire?  Meeting at 9.30am in Bunessan main carpark.

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Primroses dot the slopes at Burg ladder


Plenty of other activity as visiting Thistle Camp workparties turned their hand to drystone walling and path repair, improving a fank at Burg and a boundary wall on Iona, while local volunteers have been working hard on a myriad of bird survey tasks.

Afterschool nature clubs are now ongoing at Iona primary school and so far we’ve investigated natural textures and birdsong – during which a cheeky sparrow dropped in to find out what all the fuss was about – and after watching our local rookery the children also wanted to have a go at building nests themselves, carefully choosing the right materials for the job.  Butterflies and bushcraft are next on the agenda!

I’ve been spending more time with Bunessan school as well, with the younger class learning about how owls’ soft feathers help them to glide silently, and turning detective while dissecting owl pellets to find out what they’d been eating.  The next day it was the turn of the older class to visit Tiroran Community Forest for some natural art and poetry writing.

At the start of April we welcomed back Rachel French to be our seasonal ranger based at West Ardhu eagle hide – more from her over on the Mull Eagle Watch blog and look out for her contributing events to our programme as well.

All that in April, phew!  Check back soon for news from the north…meanwhile I’ll leave you with a rather calmer image, from yesterday’s session with Iona Community guests at the Abbey, who were thinking about our motivations for conservation, finding out about the work of the ranger service locally and investigating the small details of nature for themselves.

Enjoy spring!  Emily

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Outdoors with Bunessan Primary

Time to update you on the adventures of Bunessan primary school with the ranger service this year.  In late January, the older class visited Tiroran Community Forest to take part in the Big Schools Birdwatch at the feeders by the hide.  While one group was keeping an eye on our feathered friends through binoculars, others were busy dissecting owl pellets and identifying the bones of voles and mice they’d eaten, or playing games to demonstrate how different shapes of beaks are suited to finding different foods.

Afterschool nature club resumed in March with a spring walk around the local area to create story sticks with objects found along the way, and then a session on chocolate geology complete with a playground timeline, exploding volcano and different chocolate bars representing the different geological processes which have created our local rocks.

Last week it was the turn of the younger class to visit the forest for outdoor art and a poetry session with Jan Sutch Pickard.  You can read their creative writing below.

Looking forward to the next time!


In the Forest

Written by children from Bunessan Primary School and Jan Sutch Pickard

March 2017


Bumpy ground, cracky stick,

bark flaky and rough,

moss fluffy and soft,

squishy mud, dry bracken,

dead leaves like ripped silk

– the feel of the forest.


What can we see?

Twigs, trees, moss, broken branches, crumbly old pieces of tree,

dead leaves nibbled, wee creatures with legs, a rabbit hole, a worm,

an eagle, circling.

What can it see?

Human beings, you and me.


Our senses are alive here –                                       Palmo & Oscar

We feel slimy stuff and hear birds singing

and rivers flowing also,

we taste sweetness and see trees and smell air.


We see patterns on the bark,                                     Elizabeth & Megan

we feel that the moss is soft,

we hear birds, see a river and trees

and an animal made of moss – a hibernating bear –

we thought this could be a den.


I tasted salt, I touched leaves fallen from trees,       John & Finlay

we seen new plants and listened to birds sing,

found a pattern on a stick and spots on a leaf.

There is holes in the ground.


Dark forest, trolls, giants!                                            David & Quinn


Eagle, trees, moss, leaves,                                        Karys

logs, grass, breeze.


Tiny leaves of sorrel, tasty,                                        Katy & Lilly

big trees wrapped in moss, soft and squishy,

giants on three trees above us,

giants made of willow and moss.


I lie on very soft moss,                                                          Rory & Archie

I see three giants heads,

I see eagles flying high,

round and round the trees.


Bird tweeting, river running,                                        Jodie & Ciara

eagle swooping, tasting air.

Dark forest, giant giants,

bus shining, trees in the breeze.

Logs lying, crows cawing,

twigs snapping, soft moss.

Patterned wood, bugs crawling,

golden celandine growing.


I can see an eagle                                                       Libby

peering through bare branches,

sweeping from the glittering blue.

I can see big, big wings,

as big as the biggest thing.

Yay – I’m free.

Interested in working with us this summer?

We are advertising the following opportunities:

2 x Seasonal Countryside Rangers

37.5 hrs per week from April -September 2017

The Mull and Iona Community Trust and RSPB Scotland are looking for 2 seasonal rangers with the support of Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, and Police Scotland in partnership with North West Mull Community Woodlands Ltd and South West Mull and Iona Development.

The Seasonal Rangers will spend the majority of time helping run the award winning Mull Eagle Watch Hides (April to September) managed by this partnership.
They will also spend time assisting in the running of an events programme and helping in general ranger duties.

Good communication skills and an open, approachable style are essential. Previous experience is desirable, and a broad base of relevant knowledge will be beneficial. This includes an interest in the natural environment, and a good knowledge of Mull & Iona.

For the MICT post please download the application form & equal opportunities form below and send the completed documents to Jan Dunlop – 

To express an initial interest in the RSPB post please email:

As both posts are similar it’s possible they will be interviewed together.
Applications must be received by 4pm Monday 20th February 2017,
with interviews planned for the week of 6th March 2017
and a start date of 3rd April 2017.

RANGER – 2017 Job Desc

Application Form

Equal Opportunities Form


Volunteer Assistant Ranger

We are looking for a volunteer assistant ranger for 3 months full time beginning late May/early June. This is a great opportunity to develop skills and experience in nature conservation and rangering. The role involves assisting with varied tasks over a number of island sites, including wildlife survey work, delivery of education projects and public events programme, providing information to visitors, practical maintenance tasks. Accommodation and some travel costs will be covered.

You must show enthusiasm for wildlife and the great outdoors. Some knowledge/experience in the relevant field would be useful but more important is flexibility, good communication skills, an ability to work under your own initiative, and a desire to learn. You will need to be willing and able to work inside or outside in all weathers, including some lone working in rugged coastal terrain. Some weekend/evening hours will be required.

Please contact Emily Wilkins for more information and an application form (no CVs please).   01681 700659   07717581405

Closing date: 9am on Monday 13th March

Interview date: week of 27th March

Roars around Mull

There has been so much roaring going on over the last couple of days I forgot to update you on our deer rut walk last Wednesday. It was very well attended as usual with a good mixture of visitors and locals

James Greig, the FC Forest Ranger had been out checking where the deer were best seen from in the run up to the event.

We thought James had hurled a boogie with only one or two deer showing themselves but just as darkness fell one, then two, and before  we knew it more than 20 hinds were standing on the skyline silhouette in the setting sun, A big stag was bring up the rear. A cheeky younger stag had obviously questioned his authority and the next thing we saw was the stag disappearing over the skyline in pursuit of the younger one, defending his right to the herd of hinds and looking after their moral well being I presume

The viewing session was followed by a question and answer session, with lots of interesting questions even from the youngsters in the group

All in all it was a very enjoyable autumnal evening


And what is there to come?


Mull and Iona Community Trust are taking part in The Big Bike Revival this month. Whether you’re a regular cyclist or haven’t been on a bike for years, there are lots of ways you can get out and about on two wheels on Mull and Iona. They are organising two events during October which are a great opportunity to remind yourself of the fun of cycling or learn new skills, no matter what your age.


The Big Bunessan Bike Ride – Sunday 23rd October – Meeting at 11am at Bunessan School. Join us for a led ride around Ardtun and Bunessan finishing with a cycle cafe at Bunessan Village Hall with some delicious food from The Blackbird Bistro and the opportunity to chat to Isle of Mull Cycle Club, Tiroran Community Forest, South West Mull and Iona Development, Mull and Iona Ranger Service, Mull electric bikes and On Yer Bike Cycle Hire.

The Tobermory Family Ride – Sunday 30th October – a spooky Halloween ride around Aros Park – meeting at Apper Mhor car park at 4pm. A led ride through the forest to Aros Park, around the Loch and to the car park for an outdoor cycle cafe with food by Tobermory Guides and lots of people to chat to about cycling including Jan from Mull and Iona Ranger Service, Isle of Mull Cycle Club, Mull electric bikes and cycle mechanic Simon Bartle.

Both events are suitable for children and adults – all you need is a working bike and a helmet. Our cycle leaders will check everyone’s bikes before each ride and on the Tobermory ride everyone will be given reflective stickers and tape to decorate their bikes and jackets with. If you don’t have a bike, please get in touch with On Yer Bike Cycle Hire or Mull electric bikes who will be giving demonstrations on the day including tag alongs.

Look out for posters soon and please spread the word!


Slovakia Nature Exchange 2016

As I am giving a talk next week to the local U3A group about Nature Exchanges to Eastern Europe, thought I’d share our group report from the Slovakia trip I was part of back in May.  The previous report from Bulgaria can also be found on this blog here, and if you’re interested in ranger travel musings, there is also a blog about environmental reflections in Brazil here.

Plenty of reading for the next rainy day!   Emily


Arch Network programme – Slovakia 2016

Our trip to Slovakia in May 2016 was part of the EU-funded programme, Erasmus+, and was organised by Arch Network, a Scottish NGO whose role is to promote learning and development in natural and cultural heritage between Scotland and other European countries. Our entertaining and knowledgeable guide, driver and companion throughout the trip was Miro Knežo, the director of Krajina, a small organisation working in eco-tourism and cultural exchange.


A vibrant landscape                                                                 Nicky Langridge-Smith

The lush Slovakian countryside, significantly further south than Scotland, was already well into spring when we arrived. The scale and diversity of the country’s immense forests, broken up by distinctly rural villages and rich meadows carpeted with wild flowers, stood out in vibrant contrast to the bare hillsides interspersed with uniform conifer plantations that dominate much of the uplands of Scotland.

Slovakia is a landlocked country, with a population of 5.5 million contained within a landmass two-thirds the size of Scotland. It is rich in biodiversity, with an estimated, 40,000 species of plants and animals (Scotland’s figure 60,000 species includes 40,000 marine species). Slovakian wildlife includes 36 per cent of the mammal species, 9 per cent of reptiles and 23 per cent of amphibians that occur in Europe.

Of those 40,000 species found in Slovakia, around 20 per cent appear on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. The major threats to these species include habitat loss, fragmentation and degradations as a result of agriculture and forestry as well as increased pressure from hunting and trapping. A full list of the species identified on our trip is included at the end of this report but some of the notable appearances included a golden oriole (Oriolus oriolus), red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio) as well as a marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus) and a lesser spotted eagle (Aquila pomarina).

Slovakia is home to a sizeable population of large predators including brown bears (Ursus arctos), wolves (Canis lupis) and Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx). Our group was desperate to catch a glimpse of one of these impressive mammals but – to the relief of our hosts and guides ­– we were to be disappointed. We did, however, see evidence of their presence. On our day out with Robin Rigg in the Low Tatras National Park (Národný Park Nízke Tatry) we saw lots of prints and scat that we were delighted to identify as those of a brown bear.slovakia-bear-pawprint

Figure 1: Measuring up – female brown bear print

We also spotted a wild boar spa destination (a mud pool alongside a rub tree), tree bark with ring markings of a greater spotted woodpecker activity and the large rectangular cavities that reveal the presence of the black woodpecker.


Figure 2: Black woodpecker markings

In terms of plant life, the diversity of species – including many endemic species, is extensive. We were there at a good time to see many of the flowers, although we were too late to see the pulsatilla, their presence revealed by their feathery, nodding seed heads. Two biogeographic zones are represented in Slovakia, the Alpine and Pannonian – so we saw some steppe species, like yellow pheasant’s eye (Adonis vernalis) alongside the endemic alpine, Carpathian snowbell (Soldanella karpatska).

There are nine National Parks in Slovakia and we were lucky enough to visit six, each showing different characteristics of enlightened land management, from the tourist-focused Slovak Paradise with its vertical 100-metre ladders and stomach-churning via ferrata, to the vast primeval beech forests of Poloniny on the north eastern border, to the storm-damaged conifer forests of the High Tatras.

We were overwhelmed by the abundance of plants and flowers, not least in the National Park of Slovensky Kras where we guided by the wonderful Laszlo Gordon, a kind of Ray Mears. A ranger here for 50 years, he knows every square metre and showed us intriguing specimens such as the bird’s nest orchid, (Neottia nidus-avis) and the not-yet flowering lesser butterfly orchid (Platanthera bifolia). The bird’s nest orchid is a plant with no chlorophyll which gains its energy purely from a symbiotic relationship with a host mycorrhizal fungi present in the soil. We also spotted several endemic alpine plants such as alpine aster, (Aster alpinus). And as we returned from the viewing point high above a spectacular gorge, a peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) flew in to land above our heads almost as if Laszlo had pre-arranged its visit.


Figure 3: Bird’s nest orchid


Figure 4: Slovensky Kras

Apex predators                                                                              Nathan McLaughlan

Three of Europe’s remaining large predators – brown bear (Ursus arctos), wolf (Canis lupus) and lynx (Lynx lynx) retain strong populations in Slovakia, benefitting from high quality habitat and the ability to move freely across national borders.  In Scotland, each of these large carnivores has been brought to extinction through both persecution and habitat loss, a familiar tale across large areas of Europe.

Whilst numbers of these predators has gone up and down over the centuries, there has always been apex predators in the region and farming practices have adapted to cope with this pressure.

In eastern and central Slovakia grazing from sheep and cattle is fairly common, but flocks have shepherds in close attendance, with guard dogs.  The absence of fences or walls in grazing areas means shepherds have to keep a close eye on their flocks, and this, along with the practice of keeping animals indoors during winter, offers a degree of protection from predators.

As a result losses to lynx are very low, and considered to be insignificant.  Similarly, wolves were considered less of an issue, with the main conflict being from bears.  Compensation payments for livestock losses to each of these species have been available since 2003.   It should be noted that whilst we spoke to a range of individuals across different areas of the country and in varying roles, none of them were sheep farmers.  So whilst these opinions are valid they may not be entirely representative.

That bears provide the main source of conflict is unsurprising.  They are the largest and most conspicuous predator, they are omnivores that raid beehives and orchards, and, according to recent studies, the most numerous large carnivore in Slovakia.

The most recent estimates, based on work done by our guide Robin Rigg, show the bear population as between 1000 and 1500 individuals.  This has recovered from 20-60 individuals in 1932 due to a 30 year hunting moratorium. This is compared to the estimated 250 lynx and 400-500 wolves.  Wolves were heavily persecuted during the 19th and 20th centuries throughout central Europe, through organised hunting.  Wolves, lynx and bear are on Annex iv of the European Habitats Directive, so have been protected in Slovakia since 2003.

Bears and wolves can both polarise opinion in Slovakia, in much the same way that White-tailed eagles do in Scotland.  The arguments for and against their presence are well known.

Robin Rigg, co-founder of the Slovakian Wildlife Society that works to reduce conflict between people and wildlife, noted that people living in areas with large carnivores were more likely to have a negative view compared to those from urban areas.


Figure 5: The group with Robin Rigg

One issue that has become especially contentious is the legal hunting of bears and wolves. The Slovakian Government issues special licenses to allow hunters to shoot both species under restricted conditions. The aim of these licenses is partly to stabilise the population and partly to ensure public protection. For bears, a maximum quota of ten per cent is set, representing the estimated annual population. Previously this was based on crude estimates and it is only as a result of Robin Rigg’s population studies that more accurate estimates have been produced.  In recent years, hunters have failed to reach the quota set, blaming restrictions, such as the ban on shooting bears between December 15 and June 1, and the prohibition of shooting bears over 100 kg, which tend to be older and less likely to cause a public nuisance.

This failure to reach maximum quotas may have contributed to the growth in the bear population, now calculated at between 1,000 and 1,500. Mainstream conservationists insist that the restrictions should remain, while more radical conservationists believe that as protected species, all hunting of bears and wolves should cease. There is a ban on the hunting of lynx, which partly reflects the fact that there is widespread public tolerance of the species, as they cause little harm to livestock and are so elusive as to be almost invisible.  Bears, on the other hand, are a naturally inquisitive animal and regularly come down into settlements to forage for food (sometimes baited by tourist businesses), while wolves are perceived, especially by shepherds, as a menace to livestock.

Despite the presence of such an impressive array of species, ecotourism is still relatively underdeveloped in Slovakia. The recent crisis in the Eurozone has decimated the wider tourist industry, but as that recovers, and as ecotourism begins to bring tangible economic benefits, this conflict is likely to develop.

* See Appendix for a full list of species observed by the group.



Forestry management                                                                           Suzanne Dolby

Forty one per cent of Slovakia’s land area is forested. Around 40 per cent of forested land is owned by the state, with the remaining 60 per cent spread across various forms of ownership, including cooperatives (see next section), individuals, municipal communities and churches. Private ownership of forestry tends to be confined to extremely small areas, averaging less than three hectares. There is, however, a presumption against fragmentation of forestry, and it is prohibited to divide a forest into an area of less than 0.5 ha.

As well as being of high ecological value, forestry in Slovakia generates income, creates jobs, provides ecosystem services, and supports communities. Management of forests is subject to 10-year management plans, which are periodically updated and amended. The same policies, regulations and legislation supporting sustainable forest management are applicable to all categories of forest owners (state, private, communities etc.)

Across Slovakia as a whole, the most abundant tree species is beech (30 per cent of woodland cover), followed by Norway spruce (26 per cent). Around 60 per cent of the total cover is natural forest, which has undergone some intervention, and therefore in Scotland would be classed as ancient semi-natural woodland. The remainder is plantation woodland (approximately 35 per cent).

Large swathes of Slovakian forestry are of international importance because of their rarity and high ecological value. This includes substantial areas of primeval or ‘pristine’ forest (in Scotland known as ‘ancient woodlands’) which account for approximately 5 per cent of total cover. These are almost free from human interference and have a profound impact on the ecosystem, suppressing strong winds, humidify the air, preventing erosion, locking in carbon, and providing habitats for an abundance of rare and threatened plant and animal species.

Carpathian Primeval Beech Forest  

On our first full day in the country we visited the Bukovské (Beech) Hills in the Poloniny National Park in north east Slovakia, where Slovakia meets Poland and Ukraine. We hiked up to the summit of Riaba Skala, a viewpoint 1100 metres above sea level that reveals an epic landscape of rolling hills covered with European beech (Fagus sylvatica) and European silver fir (Abies Alba) stretching out before us in all directions. This is the Carpathian Primeval Beech Forest, which together with German Beech Forests makes up a Unesco World Heritage Site, designated in 2007.slovakia-view-from-grouse-cliff


Figure 6&7: Taking in the view at the top of Grouse Cliff

Poloniny and other National Parks are divided into ‘zones’ which are subject to different management prescriptions, based on ecological value. Forest management is forbidden in the most highly protected areas; these are left to natural processes. The area of Poloniny we visited is the only part of the Carpathian Primeval Beech Forest where the public are allowed access.

In other zones within Poloniny and other national parks, logging is allowed. Companies tender for contracts on state-owned areas, but commercial forestry in the National Parks is rigorously regulated.

Other important forest biotopes, some in Natura 2000 conservation areas of European significance, include:

  • Maple-beech montane forest (Acer pseudoplatanus, Fagus sylvatica)
  • Lime-maple rubble forest (Acer pseudoplatanus, Acer platanoides, Tilia cordata, Tilia platyphyllos & Fraxinus excelsior).
  • Bottomland willow-poplar & alder forest (Alnus incana, Picea abies, Salix fragilis and Salix purpurea).
  • Relict calcicolous pine & larch forests (Pinus sylvestris & Larix decidua)
  • Spruce forests (Picea abies & Sorbus acuparia)
  • Fir-spruce (Abies alba & Picea abies)

Other broadleaves that are found in different parts of the forest include seven native species of oak, four elms and four ash species, as well as yew, hornbeam, hazel and birch.


Destruction in the High Tatras  

The High Tatras, where species composition is typically Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), European larch (Larix decidua) and Norway spruce (Picea abies), seemed like a familiar landscape – a feeling reinforced by the drizzle and low-hanging clouds on the day we visited.


Figure 8: The High Tatras forest

Here, in the Tatra National Park, the state forest service manages around 40,000 ha for non-commercial objectives, instead focusing on conservation.

Zone ‘A’ – the most undisturbed area of the National Park – comprises approximately 25 per cent of the area, and is managed with minimum intervention. The remainder of the forest is actively managed primarily to promote stand stability and forest health. Selective thinning is permitted in order to create more open, windfirm stands. Some planting takes place to promote soil stabilisation and to prevent colonisation by plants such as grasses that aggravate allergies, although natural tree regeneration is preferred. While commercial timber production is not a management objective (see Section 3-Management of national parks), the felled timber is extracted and marketed, with profits fed back into the National Park to be used for conservation and footpath maintenance. Whilst this is a useful source of income it does not cover all the costs and also requires government funding.

Clear-felling, still practised widely in Scotland, is now the least favoured logging method in Slovakia. Instead, most areas are managed as continuous cover forestry (CCF), with selective thinning or strip felling, which has significantly less visual impact on the landscape. The extraction of timber is usually carried out by horse, skidder or skyline. It is rare for felling to take place in an area large enough and accessible enough to warrant a forwarder machine, as is commonly used to extract timber in Scottish forestry.

Creating species diversity for forest resilience is a challenge in National Parks, as permitted species are limited to those that naturally occur, similar to PAWS in Scotland (Planted ancient woodland sites). In these protected areas, seeds must be sourced from the same geographic area in which the trees are to be planted, with a strict maximum 200m tolerance. Experimental planting of sycamore, beech and fir species, which are not native to the national park zone, has been permitted for study purposes, and the success/effects monitored.

In many areas, natural regeneration has resulted in very evident two-storied stands. In order to promote structural diversity even further, forest management includes a combination of planting, natural regeneration, small areas of tree removal and brash bundling. This helps to create a mosaic effect, which contributes to the creation of a more diverse stand.

In spite of high levels of protection and sensitive forest management, Slovakian forests have not escaped affliction by pests, diseases and extreme weather events. In 2004, a storm caused unprecedented losses of 5.3 million cubic metres, (around 30 thousand ha of forest), with as much 2 million cubic metres (12 thousand ha) damaged within the Tatra National Park alone. Since 2004, other storms have caused significant damages, but none as devastating.

In order to assess forest recovery from storm damage, different interventions have been applied to experimental sub-divisions of the windblown area – one managed, another left to natural processes, a further section that was destroyed by fire, and an area that was left undisturbed by the storm. The effects of these treatments are being monitored and the results will inform future interventions.


Figure 9: Damage from the 2004 windstorm

Tree pests are a fundamental cause of tree mortality. As in Scotland, the large pine weevil (Hylobius abietis) can decimate young crops, particularly young plantation trees, with an 80 per cent mortality rate. Because the national park is part of an important water catchment, no chemical treatments for weeds, pests and diseases are permitted within its boundaries. Whilst measures to protect water quality exist in Scotland, chemical treatments would still be allowed within drinking water catchment areas under regulation.

The greatest threat to mature stands is the eight-toothed European spruce bark beetle (Ips typographus) which feeds on the cambium of living trees, and depends on fallen timber for breeding material. In the Tatra National Park, the bark beetle outbreaks have heavily increased since the 2004 storm, and have caused massive losses ever since.  The volume of fallen timber, combined with increasing temperatures, has led to an explosion in the bark beetle population.


Figure 10: Bark beetle damage

Perhaps ironically, the implementation of control measures for the bark beetle is obstructed by legislation that prohibits the processing of deadwood to protect nature and landscape. State and private forest owners are trying to bring about change which would allow some management – such as de-barking fallen trees – but this is currently being met by opposition from the government department responsible and from conservationists.


Hunting and grazing                                                                            Alan McCombes

Slovakia’s extensively forested uplands, where trees grow high on the mountain slopes, are at least partly the product of historically lower grazing pressures on the land.

Cattle densities in Scotland and Slovakia are broadly similar but there is a startling disparity in sheep and deer densities. In Slovakia there are 23.2 sheep and goats per square kilometre; in Scotland, there are 83.5 (overwhelmingly sheep). And while combined red and roe deer density in Slovakia is 3 per sq. km, the figure in Scotland is 10. Although deer numbers are lower than either sheep or cattle, they cause far more damage on woodland because of their nutritional preferences and their wide range.

The familiar sight in Scotland of red deer roaming in vast herds across bare hillsides is unknown in Slovakia. During our visit we saw only two red deer, in the forests of the Low Tatras, and were struck by the sheer size of the animals. They are more elusive and substantially larger in Slovakia because they live, and thrive, in their natural woodland habitat – in contrast to Scotland where red deer have been forced to adapt to the open hillside.


Figure 11: Tree covered hillside in the Low Tatras                

Hunting has a different traditional basis in Slovakia because landowners do not have the exclusive shooting rights on their property. Instead the land is divided into around 1800 hunting grounds covering 90 per cent of the land mass (only urban land, waterways and protected areas are exempt), each administered by a local hunting club  affiliated to the national Slovak Hunters’ Chambers.

Hunting is strictly regulated. All prospective hunters are required to undergo a rigorous year-long programme of practical training run by village hunting clubs. This is followed by a further year of theory, culminating in examinations in animal biology, first aid, hunting rules and ethics, and psychometric testing. In Scotland, the only requirement for hunting is a firearms certificate. Hunting data is rigorously recorded in Slovakia and held by the local hunting clubs. The information includes date, times, locations, and the numbers and species of animals shot. Failure to produce records can result in severe penalties and criminal liability.

Hunting is less elitist in Slovakia. Village clubs pay landowners 50 cents (half a euro) per hectare for each hunting expedition, they and members of the clubs participate free of charge (although they will pay around 35 euros for each animal compared to around 750 euros for a stag in Scotland). There is also a smaller VIP/tourist hunting sector in Slovakia which is expensive and has more in common with the model of deer stalking prevalent in Scotland. This appears to be on the margins rather than at the heart of hunting culture. The larger numbers of hunters help keep herbivore numbers in check. In Slovakia around a quarter of the deer population is shot each year, while in Scotland the figure is less than one tenth. This in turn flows from the desire of many sporting landowners in Scotland to retain high stag numbers for the benefit of guests and clients.

Hunting is not run primarily as a commercial business. Under 2009 legislation, hunting is legally defined  as “a set of activities focused on sustainable, rational, systematic hunting management and the use of wildlife and the natural resources as a natural wealth and a part of natural ecosystems; it is a part of the cultural heritage, and the environmental protection.”



Communities and land ownership                                                           Emily Wilkins

North Eastern Slovakia has some common geographical and economic features with the West Highlands of Scotland. A remote, mountainous region covering upwards of 10,000 km2, it lies on the eastern edge of the European Union and in parts is over 300 miles distant from the capital Bratislava. Like the West Highlands, it has an ageing population, with many of the younger generation forced to leave home to find work.

Yet the population density is more than 15 times higher: the Presov administrative region, which covers most of north eastern Slovakia, has a density of 91 per km2, while areas like Lochaber, Wester Ross, and Skye and Lochalsh have around 5 per km2. Nationally, the rural population of Slovakia comprises 46 per cent of the total, compared to 17 per cent in Scotland.

The Carpathians were always a peripheral and underdeveloped part of every state that ruled the area. The comparatively undeveloped economy meant people were left to conduct their own lives, retaining specific cultural and linguistic characteristics and a more ‘peasant-based’, rural economy. A strong connection with the landscape is evident with shepherds keeping a watchful eye on sheep flocks. Many are registered hunters, and most households appear to tend their own vegetable gardens. The country gives the impression of being much closer to nature than Scotland.

The pattern of land ownership is vastly different. For a large part of Slovakia’s recent history, roughly 1948 to 1989, it was part of Communist Czechoslovakia, where large areas of land were nationalised. In agricultural areas, these were converted into large collective farms, while in some of the mountain areas, national parks were declared.

In 1991, after the separation of Slovakia from the Czech Republic, the Restitution Law allowed original owners to claim back land that had been taken over by the state, or alternatively to be awarded compensation for the loss of their property. The process was complicated due to lack of records and competing claims. This tangle of confusion means that the legal ownership of around 15 per cent of woodland remains “unidentified”.

In some areas land was subdivided when passed onto each successive generation, leading to a distinctive landscape pattern of small strips across the hillside. As a result, land sales, or even the establishment of infrastructure such as cycle tracks can become a complicated business due to the multiplicity of small landowners. Due to a falling rural population many of these strips are now abandoned and left uncultivated with forest beginning to recolonize.

New legislation tries to help with consolidation of small land parcels, and unions of farmers have been established for the purpose of applying for grants and organising grazing on abandoned land. Scottish crofting communities can face similar challenges, although often the land here suffers more from overgrazing than undergrazing.

The state owns half of all land in Slovakia’s national parks, and retains mineral and game rights over private land in these protected areas. There is also a history of community ownership which can be traced back to the eighteenth century when Austro-Hungarian Empress Maria Theresa issued a special decree on land ownership. The legislation, further developed in the late nineteenth century, enshrines a system of indivisible village ownership of forests and pasture land, which survives to this day under the management of almost 3,000 local ‘urbariats’ – the Slovak equivalent of community land trusts.

Under the urbar system, villages own and manage woodlands, in line with a national 10-year plan to ensure the protection, rational use and continual improvement of the forests. Each urbar is required to employ at least one professional forester to ensure woodlands are properly managed in line with public objectives. Profits generated are distributed among local shareholders. From the Scottish standpoint, it was interesting to discover that the exciting new idea of community land ownership has functioned in Slovakia for 250 years!


Management of national parks          Christian Christodoulou-Davies & Jane Filshill

The history of national parks in Slovakia stretches back to 1949 with the creation of the Tatra National Park. This was followed by a continual expansion of protected areas, with at least one new national park designated every decade (apart from the 1950s). In Scotland, the first national park was not established until 2002.

Table 1: A brief comparison of the size and history of national parks across our home and host countries. For context it is worth noting that Slovakia is significantly smaller than Scotland accordingly NP’s as a percentage of total area covered in each country does not differ greatly (6.5% and 8.2% respectively).

National Parks of Slovakia


National Parks of Scotland



Area (km2)




Area (km2)


Tatra NP




Loch Lomond and The Trossachs NP



Pieniny NP




Cairngorms NP



Low Tatras NP







Mala Fatra NP







Slovak Paradise NP







Poloniny NP







Muranska planina NP







Vel’ka Fatra NP







Slovak Karst NP














Figure 12: Rafting on the Dunajec river in Pieniny National Park, High Tatras in the background

Within these national parks, a zoning and buffer system offers varying levels of protection to special places, wildlife and forests. Under Slovakian law, a designated nature reserve must contain at least 1000ha of important habitat that has not been generally affected by human activities.

Having designated an area the state nature regulatory body can then either totally or partially restrict public access if it is necessary to protect the area. This strict management regime follows guidelines used by the UNESCO biosphere reserves, which specifies three zones: the core area, the buffer zone and, the transition zone (though some national parks, such as the Tatra National Park, have five zones).

Core areas within Slovakian national parks adhere to the IUCN guidelines for protected area categories 1a (strict nature reserves) and 1b (wilderness areas). That means restrictions on public access in some areas, such as exclusion zones or rules obliging visitors stick to marked trails. In some areas, no human interference is allowed.

This more strict approach has obvious advantages for species and habitat conservation. But as the percentage private ownership of land increases, it looks likely that the Slovakian model will come under greater pressure.

Scotland with its more manged landscape has little to compare with the deep, heavily protected primeval forests of Slovakia, but could still benefit from prohibited zones. It also has popular access laws, and a traditional culture which is hostile to restrictions on where people are allowed to venture.

These differences are reflected in the philosophy of Scotland’s national parks, whose statutory aims of national parks are:

  • To conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area;
  • To promote sustainable use of the natural resources of the area;
  • To promote understanding and enjoyment (including enjoyment in the form of recreation) of the special qualities of the area by the public;
  • To promote sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities.

From the outset national parks in Scotland were founded on the basis of the cultural as well as the natural heritage. Accordingly the closest IUCN category for Scotland’s national parks would be category 2, with its more lenient attitude to human presence, tourist infrastructure and economic activity.

However, the impending introduction of ‘Your Park’ byelaws into a further four zones of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park (following the bye-laws introduced in East Loch Lomond) may indicate at least a small step in the direction of the more controlled environment seen in Slovakia.

Slovakia appears to have a greater reverence for nature, and a preparedness to accept rules legislated by the state. Across the six national parks we visited, there was a striking absence of litter, even in areas with high visitor numbers. This suggests a higher level of nature education. We found a strong and well-established sense of local community within each of the places we visited, something that Scotland is making progress towards.

Slovakian rules are simple and straightforward. “It is strictly prohibited to destroy the environment of national parks by polluting it with garbage, unnecessary noise, to damage, destroy or pick protected plants, hunt or disturb protected animals or make campfires.”

Whatever the merits of the zoning policy, it is clear that Slovakia has an impressive range of beautiful national parks. The idea of creating new national parks is currently a hot topic in Scotland, driven by organisations such as the ‘Scottish Campaign for National Parks.’ However at a time when budgets are already being reduced for the two existing national parks, it looks an unlikely prospect, certainly for the foreseeable future. If and when the funding situation improves in the future, it may be that any new national parks proposed will be on a smaller, Slovakian scale.

Yet that can pose its own challenges. In Slovakia, there appears to be a lower level of cooperation than exists between Scotland’s two national parks. Due partly to their different locations – one situated adjacent to the heavily populated central belt , the other in a more remote setting – Scotland’s two national parks face their own distinctive management challenges. However, they both serve the same purpose and work together in partnership – a model has that has worked well in Scotland with the support of the Scottish Government.

The Slovakian national park system in contrast feels a bit more disjointed. There is also a feeling from people on the ground that they need greater funding to survive and thrive into the future. In the meantime, conservation bodies such as the Slovakian Wildlife Trust rely upon the European Union rather than the Slovakian state to fund specific projects.


Cross-border challenges                                             Krysia Campbell & Jane Filshill

The Carpathian Mountains form a great 1,500km arc across Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, crossing state boundaries and reaching into seven separate countries. Of the six national parks we visited, all lie in the Carpathians. Four of Slovakia’s national parks adjoin national parks in three neighbouring countries.


Figure 13: Slovakian Gorali raft guide on the Dunajec River which at points separates Slovakia and Poland. The Three Crowns in the background

The first pioneering attempt to plan for transboundary national parks by Czechoslovakia and Poland in the 1920s was eventually realised in 1932, when Poland’s Pieniny national park was co-planned alongside the Slovak Pieniny natural reserve. Today, both the Polish and Slovakian Pieniny national parks straddle the Dunajec River, which for 27 kilometres forms the Slovakian-Polish border. We travelled along a stretch of this on rafts operated by ‘Gorali’ boatmen. The Goralis are a trans-boundary population, a Carpathian-Slavic highlander group spread across the Slovakian and Polish Carpathians

Although shared responsibility for national parks is a laudable principle, divided management can create difficulties. Access laws, for example, are inconsistent across national borders; the High Tatra mountain-tops are out of bounds to all except mountaineering clubs for several months of the year in Slovakia, but not in Poland.

IUCN guidelines for Trans Boundary Conservation Areas (TBCA) sets out the following benefits of cross-border cooperation:

  • Enable greater ecological integrity and contribute to the long-term survival of species;
  • Contribute to securing the survival of migratory species;
  • Have the potential to generate substantial socio-cultural and economic benefits; and
  • Can result in multiple benefits through establishment of enhanced cooperation in management.

The national parks do have regular liaison meetings with their counterparts in neighbouring countries, but cooperation appears limited. There is, however, an interesting transboundary project now underway, exploring the close ties between the towns of Nowy Targ (‘New Market’, Poland) and Kežmarok ( the ’Cheese market’, Slovakia). It recognises long-standing social, economic and cultural patterns across the mountain range, and emphasises that mountains do not act solely as a barrier. Among other aims, the project will prepare audio-visual guides (in three languages) outlining the strong historic and economic connections between the interlinked towns and communities in the Pieniny region.


Culture, nature and tourism                                                                Krysia Campbell

As in Scotland, there is a strong understanding that landscapes and places are shaped by a combination of culture and nature. Overall, however, management of the cultural and natural heritage, including research, monitoring and pubic engagement, are undertaken separately and cultural attributes are seen as ‘subservient’ to natural heritage objectives.

In some areas – for example, the poloniny grasslands (alpine and sub-alpine pastures) – it is clearly recognised that traditional land management has directly led to the creation of what appears to be a ‘natural’ habitat. But, perhaps because of the legacy of past political structures and the more recent flux in land ownership, there does not seem to be any serious emphasis on encouraging communities to engage with their environment and local landscape. National Park designations have always tended to be ‘top-down’ and strongly identified with state land management that traditionally focuses on forestry.

The exhibition viewed in the visitor centre of the Vysoke Tatry (High Tatras) National Park did include information on the region’s cultural heritage, although natural heritage content predominated. The cultural heritage element of the exhibition outlines how the Tatras grew in popularity during the nineteenth century because of its healthy alpine mountain air, opportunities for outdoor activity and scenic value. Little context, however, is given to the more recent population increase. The accompanying tourist facilities and changes in land management are all putting pressure on the montane environment.

These pressures were further elaborated by Peter Fleischer of the Slovakian Forestry Service. Commercial and private interests in the High Tatras have intensified since 1989. Consequently, hotel complexes, ski resorts and other tourist infrastructure have spread into previously unsettled areas. This development pressure, alongside rural depopulation, is changing traditional land management. As settlements expand and the local economy rests more on tourism, agricultural holdings have become vacant and areas of pasture abandoned.

Conflicting land management objectives inevitably lead to tension. On the one side, an ‘open’ letter from 55 scientists warns that the development of tourist facilities in the national parks is leading to substantial loss of biological diversity and disruption of natural processes, especially threatening the High Tatras’ natural forests. From the other side, private commercial landowners and investors, whose main interests are to generate profit from their land, complain at the absence of any formal system to compensate them for reduced commercial opportunities.

Scotland must also be aware of the pressures that our natural environment and landscapes may face if tourism and economic gains are set too firmly at the forefront of our planning aims. The gradual erosion of landscape and habitat quality will also occur where local economic drivers lead to changes in land management, unless landscape objectives are clearly understood, set out and agreed.

Yet tourism is a lifeblood industry for Slovakia. As a landlocked country, it lacks beaches and seaside resorts, but thanks to its natural beauty and amazing wildlife, tourism supports, directly and indirectly, 136,000 jobs – almost 6 per cent of the total. Ecotourism in particular may well become a major growth sector in the future.

One intriguing difference in visitor management, especially where nature protection is strongly regulated, is the more laissez faire attitude to health and safety, with the emphasis firmly placed on allowing people to assume personal responsibility for their own actions. In Slovensky Raj (Slovak Paradise) National park, much of the infrastructure that has been built to allow people access into a labyrinth of precipitous gorges and canyons would be forbidden in the UK on health and safety grounds. The park charges an entry fee to fund mountain rescue services for those who get themselves in difficulty.


Figures 14 & 15: Slovensky Raj via ferrata

The UK’s ‘Visitor Safety in the Countryside’ guidance does suggest zoning areas to allow for different levels of responsibility expected from landowners or visitors, but even so it is unlikely that our culture would allow the adventurous via ferrata type trails found in the Slovensky Raj, without insisting upon many more safety features. For the record, despite some jangling nerves, the entire group completed the expedition to the summit!


Conclusion                                                                                     Nathan McLaughlan

Slovakia is facing both great opportunities and challenges. The natural wealth was clear to see during our trip, but there is clearly a drive for development, especially in the High Tatras.  Managing this conflict between modern economic development and preserving the traditional culture and environment will be increasingly difficult.  Climate change is already starting to impact the forests of the High Tatras national park and will present a different set of challenges.

There is certainly a lot that we can learn from Slovakia. The ‘progressive’ land ownership and game management evident in the country is something Scotland could look to for ideas.  The woodlands are highly valued as a national resource and great emphasis is placed on managing them appropriately.  With reduced persecution and increased conservation efforts, farming methods can adapt to deal with conflicts from increased predator populations without losing their traditions.

There is a willingness to learn and try new approaches to address new problems, for example experimenting with deadwood management in order to avoid the need for chemicals when treating bark beetle is forward thinking. Slovakia has also led the way in cross border working, having a number of well-established national parks and projects that cross various international boundaries.

Each of us has learned a great deal during this course. We would like to express our sincere thanks to each of the guides, who each gave us a different insight into Slovakia and lessons that can be adopted and adapted to our own situations.  We would especially like to thank Libby at Archnetwork for arranging the course and Miro at Krajina for looking after us so well during our stay.



APPENDIX – Vertebrate species List

Vertebrate Species List:

  • Fire Salamander                       Salamandra salamandra
  • Common Frog                           Rana temporaria
  • Pool Frog                                  Pelophylax lessonae
  • European Green Toad               Bufo viridis 
  • Adder                                       Vipera berus
  • Viviparous (Common) Lizard     Lacerta vivipara
  • Red squirrel                              Scirus vulgaris
  • Common Shrew                        Sorex araneus
  • Roe deer                                   Capreolus capreolus
  • Red deer                                  Cervus elaphus 
  • White stork                               Ciconia ciconia     
  • Black Stork                               Ciconia nigra
  • Mallard                                     Anas platyrhynchos
  • Buzzard                                    Buteo buteo
  • Marsh Harrier                            Circus aeruginosus
  • Kestrel                                      Falco tinniculus
  • Peregrine falcon                       Falco peregrinus
  • Lesser spotted eagle                 Aquila pomarina
  • Corncrake                                 Crex crex
  • Lapwing                                    Vanellus vanellus
  • Black-headed gull                     Larus ridibundus
  • Wood pigeon                                      Columba palumbus
  • Golden Oriole                           Oriolus oriolus
  • Cuckoo                                     Cuculus canorus
  • Green woodpecker                    Picus viridis
  • Greater spotted woodpecker     Dendrocopos major
  • Swift                                        Apus apus
  • Swallow                                    Hirundo rustica
  • House marten                           Delichon urbica
  • Pied wagtail                              Motacilla alba
  • Grey Wagtail                                      Motacilla cinerea
  • Dipper                                      Cinclus cinclus
  • Wren                                        Troglodytes troglodytes
  • Dunnock                                  Prunella modularis
  • Robin                                        Erithacus rubecula
  • Black Redstart                          Phoenicurus ochruros
  • Redstart                                   Phoenicurus phoenicurus
  • Blackbird                                  Turdus merula
  • Mistle thrush                                      Turdus viscivorus
  • Fieldfare                                   Turdus pilaris
  • Blackcap                                   Sylvia atricapilla
  • Wood warbler                           Phylloscopus sibilatrix
  • Chiff chaff                                Phylloscopus collybita
  • Willow warbler                          Phylloscopus trochilus
  • Great tit                                   Parus major
  • Coal tit                                     Parus ater
  • Jay                                           Garrulus glandarius
  • Red-backed shrike                    Lanius collurio
  • Magpie                                     Pica pica
  • Jackdaw                                   Corvus monedula
  • Raven                                                Corvus corax
  • Starling                                    Sturnus vulgaris
  • House sparrow                          Passer domesticus
  • Chaffinch                                 Fringilla coelebs
  • Goldfinch                                 Carduelis carduelis
  • Rosefinch                                 Carpodacus erythrinus
  • Serin                                        Serinus serinus
  • Crossbill                                    Loxia curvirostra
  • Yellowhammer                          Emberiza citronella 


Notable Invertebrates



Carpathian blue slug                          Bielzia coerulans


Tau emperor moth                              Aglia tau


Field cricket                                        Gryllus campestris

Hemiptera: Heteroptera

Forest shield bug                                Pentatoma rufipes




Take Shelter

With all the wet and windy weather it’s about time you had a tour of our lovely new building on Iona which opened earlier this year, so…

Welcome to Shelter!

external view

Let’s take a look around…


This new building sits on the footprint of an older shed which has played a key part in island life over the last 100 years – a venue for dances, a cargo store, boatshed, and even the firestation – until it fell into disrepair.


It’s now revitalised, with a similar look to the original building outside (in keeping with the village’s status as a building conservation area). If you are here on a quick daytrip we hope it will inspire you to visit again and spend more time exploring.  If you need a dry place to wait for the ferry, be our guest, and maybe learn something interesting while you’re waiting – there’s a handy vending machine for snacks too!  If you are unable to walk far, our audio-visual film, large-scale map and colourful banners will bring the sights and sounds of the island to you.  If you’re ready to explore off the beaten track you’ll find the map and leaflets useful – don’t forget to come back and record your wildlife sightings afterwards and find out how the conservation work of the National Trust for Scotland provides ‘shelter’ for the island’s wildlife and landscapes too.


Of course this wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our generous donors, many thanks to all who contributed and to those who help to keep the building clean and open for business.


10th June saw our official opening ceremony at which young people from Oban High School who’d been involved in our Changing Landscapes project entertained us with their music and poetry.  A short documentary film about this project features in the Shelter’s audio-visual display and can be viewed online here:

The wildlife film created by Simon Goodall can also be viewed online here:           

NTS Iona

Pic: Tom Finnie (10.6.2016) Official opening of new National Trust for Scotland visitor shelter on Iona:


All good things must come to an end!

Hello again!

Its been another few weeks since my last blog post and again, I don’t quite know where the time has gone! I’m writing this post from the mainland as my volunteer placement with Mull and Iona Ranger Service has concluded. I’ve never found the saying ‘all good things must come to and end’ to be truer and despite only being home a few days, I’m already exploring avenues which would allow me to return to the Island on a more permanent basis… Watch this space!


A view I’ll never forget! Looking out from Bunessan, across Loch na Laitaich.

My last few weeks on the Ross of Mull were as enjoyable and as busy as all the others. Emily and myself carried out the Ranger Service’s annual ‘Fun in the Sun’ events on Iona and Tiroran and the kids who came along thoroughly enjoyed themselves! I should probably mention that these events have been re-branded as ‘Go Wild’ due to the unpredictable nature of our weather…


The Ranger truck with Ben More in the background

We have had archaeologists from the NTS on Staffa in the past fortnight who are trying to determine the time period of the Island’s earliest inhabitants. Prior to their arrival, we carried out storm petrel surveys in the ruined buildings and other locations around the Island to ensure that the archaeologists work would not impact their nests. In total, we found 15 nests – an increase from the previous survey!

20160722_130707 (4)

Looking north east from Staffa during our lunch break! You can see Dutchman’s Cap in the background.

It was great that my final two weeks on the island incorporated the Ross of Mull and Iona Gala Fortnight as there was always something on to keep me occupied and distract me from my impending departure! One of the highlights was the Local Food Ceilidh on Iona. A special mention has to go to Glen’s mutton burgers which were unbelievable!

I should probably also mention that Bunessan FC won our annual 5 aside tournament, beating Tobermory 2-1 in the final!



In my final week, I carried out my own guided bat talk and walk  event which went really well! The event started with a presentation on the history, ecology and distribution of bats in the British Isles before we then embarked on a walk around Bunessan armed with bat detectors. We encountered around 5 pipistrelle bats, although we were unable to determine whether they were common or sopranos!

The Bunessan Show on the 5th of August was my last working day and Emily, Steph and myself interacted with well over 100 visitors. Our main focus of the day was to encourage responsible wildlife watching and behaviour in the outdoors and I hope that we got the message across.


Helping to set up the Show tents!

Overall, the Show was a great success and the Show Dance at night was even better! The band, Trail West, were fantastic and it was a great way to end my time on the Island.

I’d like to thank Emily for offering me the opportunity to live and work on such a beautiful Island and I can’t emphasize enough how much this placement will benefit me as I begin my pursuit of a career in conservation. A special mention also has to go to the local community in the Ross of Mull and Iona. From the first day I arrived I was made to feel extremely welcome. I had no idea when I arrived on Mull that I’d make friends for life and totally fall in love with the Island. I can’t wait to get back!

Cheers for now,



Wednesday’s Ranger Walk to Scallastle provided a really enjoyable afternoon… if a little damp.

Though we all had high hopes of spotting the local white-tailed eagle pair, it was flying beasties on an all together smaller scale that stole the show.

Golden ringed dragonflies are one of Britain’s largest and most spectacular invertebrates. Fortunately for us, they are a common sight along Mull’s paths and rides. As we approached the Scallastle River with its attractive bridge and viewpoint over the tumbling water, we discovered one of these marvelous animals perched in vegetation at the side of the track.

The golden ringed dragonfly has eyes of apple green, which join like a ski-mask across the front of its face. Though their bold yellow and black marking are suggestive of danger, these animals do not sting. They are capable of biting, having very powerful jaws for tackling their insect prey; but they are in no way aggressive or threatening towards people.

This dragonfly patiently allowed itself to be lifted from the vegetation and shown to the group, offering a superb chance to inspect the delicate veins in its wings, the slight purple sheen over its eye structures and the rather alien breathing apparatus [spiracles] along the sides of its abdomen.

Other delights included an army of tiny froglets –  caught using the damp weather to its fullest advantage as they crossed the path. Each one could sit comfortably on a finger-tip, being a perfect predatory miniature of the adults.

Spotted flycatchers and groups of foraging warblers tinkled and squeaked along in the birch trees beside us, with a stunning display of yellow St. John’s wort peaking out through the rough grass.

A personal highlight was the sight of round-leaved sundew plants in full flower – something that I’ve never seen before! These little carnivorous plants thrive in nutrient poor areas, making up for any deficiencies by capturing and digesting insects. It’s all a bit “Day of the Triffids” – but their waxy white five-petaled flowers are lovely.

If you know a young person who is interested in plants and trees, why not take them along to join Emily for her Pioneering Planthunters session at Tiroran Community Forest on July 29th?

Contact: 07717581405 for further information and booking.

Stephanie Cope